Box-Type Fluorescence Imaging Device FSX100FSX100 allows you to
capture well-defined
fluorescence microscopy
images in surprisingly
simple steps.

It's the first step toward the creation of the ideal microscope

Industrial Designer

Kenji Tajima

I wanted to design an interface that would be like air

GUI Designer

Izumi Sakuma

[Tajima] When I first heard about the specifications, I thought that this would be an important step toward the creation of the ideal microscope. I also wondered whether we would really be able to turn these specifications into a product. Traditional microscopes had certain basic elements, such as lenses, stages and control knobs. You could see at a glance that they were microscopes. But the FSX100 was something totally new. A box-shaped microscope. It was the first time that I'd been involved in the design of something so unprecedented.

What kind of hardware would be suitable for this microscope? The concept for the FSX100 was to create a user-friendly system that would be easy to operate. I thought that this concept should also be expressed in the exterior design.

I decided that overall appearance should be basically white to create a soft, gentle image. I created a tight, elegant curve and silver coloring for the front panel, which faces the user, and I used the Corporate Color (Olympus Blue) for the logo. I believe that the resulting design combines a soft, gentle look with the image of a high-performance precision instrument.

[Sakuma] My first priority in designing the user interface was to eliminate the notion that microscopes are difficult to use. I wanted the interface to be simple even for a scientist who had never previously used a microscope, and easier to use for those with experience of microscopy.

I interviewed users in depth and documented their responses to various questions. I wanted to know why they had found some features difficult to use, and what clues had helped them learn how to operate the system. I investigated the factors that had hindered understanding and devised specific measures to make the opaque transparent.

The result is a microscope that is user-friendly and easy to operate. I am proud of that. We cannot allow advances in technology to widen the gap between those who can use technology and those who cannot. My approach to design is guided by my belief that we should lead everyone into the future by packaging advanced technology in usability.

The FSX100 — A Totally Innovative Microscope

In 2009 Olympus celebrated its 90th anniversary. The company was founded in 1919 and launched its first microscope, the Asahi, in the following year. The FSX100 Box-Type Fluorescence Imaging Device heralds a new era in microscope technology. It combines leading-edge technology with the Olympus spirit, including an unbroken tradition of microscope manufacturing expertise dating back to the Asahi.

Simply by placing a sample in the FSX100 and closing the front cover, the user can create darkroom conditions. The system is equipped with a high-resolution objective lens and high-definition digital camera. The entire process, from setup to observation and capture, can be controlled using the mouse. With its many features and advantages, the FSX100 is being used increasingly in many research fields, including bioscience.

In 2009, the FSX100 won a Good Design Award in recognition of its usability and beauty.

Designer participation from the research stage is reflected in simple, clear interface design.

[Sakuma] In January 2006 our department received a request from the development team. They said they wanted to borrow a designer for a while. They said they needed a user interface design expert to assist with a proposal that they planned to present at an in-house research symposium. I was singled out for the task, since I had been involved in the design of user interfaces for highly specialized equipment, such as industrial scopes, since joining Olympus.

The first document that I received from the developer contained a passionate statement of his determination to create a bold new concept that would overturn the traditional idea of what a microscope should look like. Since part of the concept was that the new microscope should be easy to operate, user interface design would play an important role. I was inspired. I was also somewhat nervous, since my knowledge of microscopes at the time was around the junior high school level. As designer, I began to attend a series of meetings with the developer and a marketing executive. The three of us made up the project team.

I believe that the involvement of a user interface designer from the research stage ultimately enabled us to create a finished product that would be user-friendly and easy to operate. Traditionally, designers have been brought into projects part-way through the development process. In that situation, it is difficult to make fundamental changes to the specifications.

An innovative, high-performance microscope with a kind face

[Tajima] When I joined the project team, the observation method for the new microscope and the way it would function as a tool had already been finalized to some extent. My task was to design the exterior appearance of the project. When I heard about the specifications, I realized that this was a major step forward toward the creation of the ideal microscope. Frankly, I also wondered whether we could really turn these specifications into an actual product.

Traditional microscopes consisted of certain basic elements, such as an ocular lens, objective lens, a stage for the sample, and adjustment knobs. You knew at a glance that they were microscopes. The FSX100 was something totally new: a box-type microscope. I had been involved in the design of products for a wide range of fields, from consumer equipment, such as digital cameras and recorders, to medical equipment and microscopes. This was the first that I had designed something so completely novel.

As I struggled to find an appropriate form for the hardware, the new microscope began to take shape in my mind. Some thought we should use a cool exterior design to project an image of the product as a highly advanced microscope. However, I thought that the exterior design should also express the concept of the FSX100 as a system that would be user-friendly and easy to operate.

I based the color scheme on white to create an overall image of softness and gentleness. The front panel, which users face when setting up samples, has a elegant, tightly curved shape and is colored silver. I used the logo, colored in the Corporate Color (Olympus Blue), to create a color accent. I believe I created a design that combines a soft, gentle look with the image of a high-performance precision instrument.

User cooperation the key to the creation of a user-friendly interface design

[Sakuma] My first priority when I began to work on the user interface design was to sweep away the notion that microscopes are difficult to use. I wanted to create an interface so simple that even a scientist who had never looked through a microscope before would be able to use it, and one that would make microscopy even easier for experienced users.

Initially I used the persona method and the scenario method. A persona is a virtual target user. A scenario is a document describing what happens in the mind of the persona while interacting with the target product. I interviewed users about various tasks involved in the operation of the microscope, including sample preparation, the start-up of the microscope, sample setup, selection of observation mode, adjustment, observation of cells, positioning and capture. In each case, I asked them why they thought they could not handle the operation, or what clues had helped them discover how to perform the operation. Their responses were documented in detail.

I next had users who matched the persona profile actually operate the microscope in order to identify the factors that had hindered understanding at the scenario stage. I then devised specific measures to make the opaque transparent.

For example, one problem was that users were not sure which area of the screen to control. I modified the screen layout, and created a rule stating that a click on the right edge of the screen meant "Forward to the next chapter" and a click on the left edge meant "Back to the previous chapter." I also added screen sequence navigation information, so that users would always know where they were in the overall sequence of microscope operations.

One phenomenon that causes problems with microscopes is disorientation. When displaying an area of tissue, it may seem that a particular location has already been viewed, but there is almost no way to confirm this. To prevent this positioning problem, I decided to display a wide-area map, which I called the "Macro-Image Navigator."

I also needed to check whether the solutions devised using the persona and scenario methods would really make the system easier to understand. I therefore created a simulator that closely approximated the operation of an actual microscope and conducted two usability tests. The first test, which was carried out early in the development process, identified dozens of problems. I carefully remedied each of those problems, and the second test, conducted later in the development process, yielded extremely good results. It was at that point that I began to feel that I had at least created a user interface that would be user-friendly and simple to operate.

Concept expressed in logo

[Tajima] The product logo used on the front of the product and in catalogs and other materials plays a key role in the realization of the product concept. I spent a lot of time considering this aspect, and I think that I created a logo that clearly expresses the product's image as a system that is user-friendly and easy to operate. One of the in-house issues that we faced related to the name of the product. Many times we have to make sudden name changes after searching trademark data bases in various countries. To ensure that we will be able to deal quickly with problems of this type in the future, I have designed an entire upper-case alphabet.

Creating an interface design that feels like air

[Sakuma] I received a message from a Canadian zoology professor, saying that our software was the simplest he'd ever used. There have been many other comments about the simplicity and usability of the system. However, there were few comments about specific aspects that enhanced clarity, such as size of a display item or the way instructions are displayed.

In fact, I am happy about that. When a system is truly easy to understand and use, people are simply able to use it without retaining any specific impression about what happened or how. The best user interface design is one that feels like air.

If I can, I'd like to enhance user comfort even more. I believe that we could convey all kinds of information in a more user-friendly way if we could make better use of our five senses.

The legacy of the development process

[Tajima] We took a range of factors into account when choosing the material for the exterior of the FSX100, including image, performance, cost and ease of manufacturing. Eventually we decided to use plastic. We also considered the use of metal during the design deliberation process. Metal offers attractive design possibilities and a pleasing sense of quality and presence. I hope that this metal design will be used on a future product, together with the logo letters that never saw the light of the day.

This time my involvement with the catalog was limited to providing a little advice from a design perspective. In future projects, I hope that we'll be able to achieve total design coordination from a branding perspective, including hardware, user interfaces, logos, catalogs and websites.

Leading everyone into the future by packaging advanced technology in usability

[Sakuma] Many, many people helped to create the FSX100, including the users who participated in the usability tests, as well as those involved in development, the compilation of help information and manuals, and marketing and sales personnel.

The user interface created for the FSX100 has also been used for the FLUOVIEW FV10i Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope, which was developed around the same time. It seems likely to become the standard for microscope user interfaces.

I believe that we must not allow advances in microscopes or other areas of technology to widen the gap between those who can use technology and those who cannot. I want to create designs that will lead people into the future by packaging advanced technology in usability.

Information of this article is based on the facts as of March 31, 2010.